Energy & Environment

Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to ‘forever chemicals,’ official says

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The coronavirus has caused a delay in researching alternatives to using cancer-linked chemicals in military firefighting foam, the director of the Defense Department’s Strategic Environment Research and Development Program said Tuesday.

Director Herb Nelson referenced the delay when asked by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) about whether the possible alternatives will be safer than the currently used chemicals called PFAS. 

“It’s too early to answer that question. We’re just getting started. Normally, on this day, I could give you some early indicators, but like everyone else on this Earth, they’ve really taken a delay because of the COVID situation,” Nelson said. 

“Many of the people are out of their laboratories, so maybe they’re six months further behind than we would expect them to be,” he added.

PFAS chemicals are a class of cancer-linked substances that are also sometimes called “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the human body and in nature. They’re found in a variety of products, including firefighting foam that’s used by the military. 

However, the military will be prohibited from using foams containing PFAS after Oct. 1, 2024, due to a provision in a past National Defense Authorization Act bill.

During a House hearing on Tuesday, Nelson also said that the environmental impacts of potential substitutes for firefighting foam were being tested at the same time as the products’ firefighting abilities, an unusual step taken to meet the 2024 deadline.

Also at the hearing, Maureen Sullivan, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, said that the department would begin testing the blood of the firefighters it employs for PFAS this October.

Tags Firefighting foam Mo Brooks Pentagon PFAS PFAS chemicals

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